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Breaking Down Where Your Property Tax Dollars Go in the City of Burlington

Photo by Recha Oktaviani on
Photo by Recha Oktaviani on

We know residents are now receiving their tax bills and may have some questions of where their tax dollars go and why they’ve gone up.

There are two components that can potentially increase a property bill.

One is changes due to increase in market value. These are set by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC), not the City of Burlington. We have no control over these assessments and related increases. You can appeal the increase in your property value to MPAC, and seek a reduction in the associated taxes as a result of this increase.

You can find out more about how your property values are assessed and the relationship to taxes here:

The other component is the tax rate increase.

Your tax bill is made up of three sources: city, region and education taxes. Taxes increased for both city and region this year.

The City’s portion of the overall 2021 residential tax bill is 45.4 cents of every tax dollar and the remaining 54.6 cents goes to Halton Region and the Province of Ontario for education taxes.

If you are interested in the specifics of where any of these dollars are spent you can review the capital budget book, or the operating budget book, available here:, please also visit the Halton Region Budget and Business Plan for 2021, for more information.

Another post published on this website provides further insight into this year’s budget and as a testament that the City of Burlington did everything we could to keep this year’s tax increase to the minimum.

City staff embarked on a cost containment program related to COVID-19 and removed more than $2 million from the budget. Cost-cutting measures included more than 600 part-time staff being laid off during the complete lockdown. Even with government assistance, there is still a gap in the City’s 2021 budget of close to $3 million due to COVID-19 impacts. During the budget process, Council has directed staff to provide options for any additional savings in this year’s budget.

This budget year has been especially challenging due to COVID-19.

Our revenues have gone down for items such as Parks and Recreation programming, transit, parking, and more. At the same time, costs have gone up due to the pandemic — additional cleaning, additional buses required to offer the same service in order to allow distance among passengers on buses for public health; capacity limits on the number of people in programs.

There has also been an increased demand for services: Bylaw enforcement is just one example, but building permits is another, where there has been an almost 10-fold increase in requests as residents are home more, working from home and wanting to do home improvement and extensions.


Regarding where your city portion of property taxes would go this link may assist:

As you will see, the top five costs in order of most of the costs go to, to the least are:

  • police services
  • capital costs (new or repaired roads, parks, community centres and other facilities+)
  • fire protection (public safety services)
  • roads and transportation (street lights, stop signs, traffic calming, transit+)
  • maintenance services (road resurfacing, pot holes, sidewalk repairs, tree planting, garbage pickup in parks+)

The majority of these services continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and in some cases increased, in order to keep people protected, healthy and safe.

If you are interested in the specifics of where any of these dollars are spent you can review the capital budget book, or the operating budget book, available here:


The Mayor’s Office has received some concerns from the public that the tax increases are the result of flowers being planted throughout our downtown; measures to manage congestion and illegal parking along Beachway Park; and the upcoming renovations to City Hall — this is incorrect.

Flowers in the Downtown/Beachway Park Mitigation Measures

The downtown is covered by the Burlington Downtown Business Association (BDBA), an independent association funded primarily through a levy on member businesses in the geographic BDBA boundaries. One of the key roles of the BDBA is beautification. They exclusively fund the flower hanging baskets and other decorations in the downtown. You do not pay for these from your property taxes.

There are also flowers planted in medians downtown (Brant Street, Lakeshore Road) and elsewhere across the city. These are funded through existing city funds and no additional locations were added this year, so there is no increase in your taxes related to these flowers.

City council recently discussed how best to manage congestion and illegal parking along Beachway Park, including illegal parking along the grassy area overtop of a gas line. We have tried many things over the years — signs, ticketing, towing, some form of barriers. Last year, with more people being at home rather than travelling during the holidays due to COVID-19 the situation became even worse.

City staff proposed a combination of repurposing existing armour stone, purchasing more where needed, and adding select flower planters at locations to provide both a practical function/barrier to illegal parking and be beautiful at the same time. The alternative — concrete barriers — was twice the cost of the armour stone and flower planters, without the aesthetic appeal. The majority of council supported the staff-recommended initiative.

As these additional costs were related to increased congestion due to COVID-19, we were able use COVID funding from the province and federal governments for these additional costs. We have also implemented a weekend parking fee for use of the parking services to recoup some of these costs. Halton residents are eligible for 10 free passes per year giving them over a month of free parking at the beach.

As such, none of these costs were added to the tax base, and are not included in the increase residents saw on their tax bill this year.

Planned City Hall Renovation

Regarding the City Hall renovation, the building HVAC system that is behind the walls and not visible to the public is at its end of life and must be replaced. This will require dismantling the walls. That provides an opportunity to reconfigure the space and move walls in a cost-effective manner, and at the same time repurpose the first floor to be an indoor gathering space for the community, and provide additional open space so people can safely physically distance, especially while we are still in COVID-19.

The work needs to be done now to replace the systems that are at end of life and it is opportune and less disruptive to do this work while City Hall is closed and most of the staff are working from home.

The funding for this program is provided for in the existing capital base budget, and was not a contributing factor to the increase in your taxes.

The main drivers for the tax increase this year (and most years) are:

  • infrastructure renewal and asset management — to keep aging roads and facilities in a state of good repair — this amounts to 1.25% of the annual increase;
  • inflationary pressures, increased human resources costs due to union and non-union contracts, and new staff added in planning, bylaw and other areas to deliver direct community services.

A high level snapshot of the main budget increase drivers is here with screen captures below.

In Summary:

To summarize, the decisions we made around the budget this year were prudent to keep assets in a state of good repair and deliver on community services expected and needed by a growing population. We recognize not every resident will agree with every expenditure.

However, as noted, the items of concern listed were not drivers of the increase.

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A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made. As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington. The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful. Got an idea or comment you want to share privately? Please, get in touch:

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